MONTREAL - The family of a man killed by police in 2017 was awarded $30,000 in damages this week by a judge who ruled Quebec's police watchdog showed bias in a public statement about the case.
On March 6, 2017, Koray Kevin Celik, 28, was intoxicated and his parents wanted to prevent him from getting behind the wheel when they called 911, in the western Montreal borough of L'île-Bizard—Sainte-Geneviève.
Police officers who had responded to the call had attempted to subdue Celik, including with a baton. But Celik's parents have said they witnessed the officers use excessive force, repeatedly beating him with their feet and knees before he stopped breathing.
The civil case brought by the family took issue with an August 2018 statement by the watchdog, which only provided the police version of event, alleging Celik acted aggressively. That version contradicts his parents' account of what happened.
"The press release contains the narration of the event of March 6 from a single point of view, that of the police," Quebec court Judge Louis Riverin wrote in a decision dated Monday. "On reading, a reasonable person in the public may have the impression that this text is written to justify the police intervention and that it is a conclusion."
Four Montreal police officers were cleared of wrongdoing in his death after a probe by the watchdog, called Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, which investigates when police are involved in situations involving injury or death.
The Celik family's lawyer, François Mainguy, said the watchdog went ahead with the statement despite the family raising concerns about its contents — both before it was published and immediately after in a lawyer's letter.
"There's no doubt by reading the judgment that the press release issued by the (watchdog) lacked impartiality and independence," Mainguy said in an interview Wednesday. "For our clients and myself, it calls into question the very legitimacy of the investigation itself."
The attorney general has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.
"For the moment, the Bureau will not comment on the judgment, we are continuing our analysis of it," the watchdog said in a statement.
In the past, the police oversight agency has drawn criticism for a lack of transparency.
It was created in 2016 following years of complaints and demands from citizens for an independent bureau to investigate instances when someone dies or is seriously injured during a police intervention. Previously, the province's police forces had investigated each other under such circumstances.
Riverin sided with the family, ruling the watchdog's statement was not neutral or impartial. In his judgment, he noted it's not the agency's role to justify police actions, but to conduct an independent investigation.
"It is not a neutral text, no independence or even impartiality emerges," he wrote. "By publishing only one version, that of the police officers involved, do we not run the risk of publishing half-truths, distorting reality and undermining public confidence?"
He awarded Celik's parents $10,000 each and his two brothers $5,000 each.
The family is also suing the City of Montreal and the Urgences Santé ambulance service for wrongful death. That case is on hold pending a coroner's inquest into Celik's death.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2021.